CEP: Editorial - ChE Salaries Rebound, But Gaps Remain


Two years ago, AIChE’s biennial salary survey found that chemical engineers’ salaries had stagnated and raises were the lowest they had been in two decades. Fortunately, the situation appears to have turned around somewhat.

The 2013 salary survey (pp. 12–19) reports a median salary of $120,000 — 9% higher than the $110,000 median of two years ago. Yet, while half of the respondents reported higher salaries in 2012 than in 2011, their median increase was 3.1% — statistically no different from the last survey’s median raise of 3.2%.

The gender gap in chemical engineers’ salaries continues to generate discussion. Previous surveys reported disparities that generally varied with age and years of experience. In some surveys, early-career women earned slightly more than their male counterparts, while in other surveys the younger men earned more than the women. However, among respondents with more than 10 years of experience, women’s median salaries almost always lagged behind men’s median salaries, in almost all age/experience groups.

This year for the first time, AIChE took a closer look at this disparity by evaluating the impact of time taken off work for family reasons. Regression analysis revealed that each increment of time taken off — by men or women — was associated with a reduction in salary, on average, of about $4,500. Respondents who took off six months to a year felt the hardest hit — their salaries decreased on average by about $14,000. Most of the male respondents who took time off were out for three months or less, while female respondents were most likely to take off four to six months — which could help to explain some of the gender difference. It also appears that once women fall behind, they tend to not catch up. These results have piqued our interest, and we will continue to explore the issue in future surveys. 

Researchers at the Univ. of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management found a similar salary penalty associated with time taken off among college faculty members who took advantage of their school’s “stop-the-tenure-clock” (STC) policy. STC policies allow tenure-track faculty members to delay their tenure review, and they are most often used for family reasons, such as child-birth and care-giving. Colleen Flaherty Manchester and her colleagues report in the journal Industrial and Labor Relations Review that both male and female faculty members who stopped the tenure clock for family reasons earned a salary that was 3.1% to 4.3% lower the following year, even when there was no significant drop-off in the quantity or quality of their research output. 

Interestingly, they also found that STC policy use had a persistent effect on salary decisions for male faculty members, but not for females. This, they say, could indicate that men are penalized for using STC policies for family reasons to a greater extent than women are because doing so violates traditional gender roles. “There is no overall gender effect — male and female faculty are similarly penalized a year following the use of the rollback,” says Amit Kramer, a co-author of the study. “But while women seem to suffer a single penalty one year after stopping their clock, men are penalized twice, a year after they stop their clock, and again two years after they stop the clock.”

The article on pp. 12–19 provides an overview of the salary survey results. AIChE members can download an expanded version of the article, with additional information, tables and charts, and more detail, from CEP’s website, www.aiche.org/cep.


Author Bios: 

Cynthia Mascone

Cindy Mascone is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Engineering Progress, AIChE’s member magazine. She has more than 25 years of experience as a technical editor and writer, including four years as the head of her own freelance consulting business, Engineered Writing. Previously, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.

She holds a BS in chemical engineering and engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon Univ., and has been an active member of AIChE and Society of Women Engineers.Read more

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